Part 2 of a series examining how leading companies are leveraging carbon offsetting and REDD+ to sustain their environmental footprint and target climate change.
Editor's Note: Last week, I chatted with Barclays' Director of Citizenship Jillian Fransen on the financial institution's allegiance to carbon offsetting and how she is leveraging the increasingly popular mechanism to not only offset its unavoidable carbon footprint - "There is a major shift going on toward a realistic understanding of what we need to do to adapt to climate change" - but also help sustain local economies through social enterprises and the work of REDD+.
This week, I turned to insurance giant Allianz who has also chosen to use carbon offsetting to target deforestation and reduce its environmental footprint. Excerpts from my conversation with Martin Ewald, Head of Investment Strategy and Renewable Energy/Infrastructure Equity with Allianz Global Investors.
Describe your emissions reduction program and goals.
Allianz has set itself the target of avoiding, substituting and reducing its own CO2 emissions and is 100 percent climate-neutral since 2012. This means that all remaining emissions are being neutralized – in particular through direct investments in climate protection projects.
By 2015, Allianz aims to reduce its carbon footprint per employee by 35 percent compared to 2006.
What are "unavoidable emissions"?
Unavoidable emissions are CO2 emissions that are intrinsically linked to our business activity, like business travel, that we cannot always avoid or only avoid at very high expense. These emissions are still harmful to the climate. Corporates can take a leadership role in offsetting emissions related to their business activity by investing in responsible sustainability projects – this is not required by regulation in our sector.
But it is responsible behavior and makes good business sense. In fact, we have identified climate change as one of the three most critical sustainability challenges for Allianz (alongside demographic change and access to finance).
Where does offsetting fit into your sustainability strategy?
In addition to our carbon reduction target, being a carbon neutral business is the second pillar of our commitment and contribution to achieving a low-carbon economy.
In 2012, 175,000 credits, each accounting for one metric ton of carbon avoided, were sourced and retired from projects we support - retiring credits means that CO2 certificates, each representing one ton of avoided emissions, are taken off the market. Our remaining carbon footprint was neutralized by credits bought from the carbon market, which underwent a stringent sustainability screening to ensure they met the same high standards as the credits from projects we invest in.
The quality of the underlying projects determines the value of each and every credit in the voluntary sector, and REDD+ rate amongst the highest valued carbon credits.
Why did you choose REDD+ as one of the preferred offsets?
Our investment in REDD+ is consistent with our strategy of supporting effective climate projects in emerging and developing countries. We have invested in forest protection in Kenya with Wildlife Works, one of the leading developers of REDD+ projects. These projects don't simply protect threatened forests; they also involve the local population and provide them with a source of livelihood.
REDD+ will also raise awareness of how to deal with resources in a responsible manner, besides helping preserve the habitat of the local population. Due to the considerable impact generated, we plan to continue investing in the REDD+ sector.
How has supporting REDD+ benefitted your company – and its stakeholders?
For the CO2 stored by the forests we receive certificates, which we can then use to offset business-related CO2 emissions. This way we ensure our climate neutrality and at the same time make a worthwhile investment. For us the yield also includes enhancing climate protection and biodiversity. We may also benefit from positive branding, but it is too early to tell since 2012 was the first year that we were carbon neutral.
As a financial institution, what is Allianz's most challenging source of carbon emissions?
Ninety eight percent of our emissions stem from energy, travel and paper. So, the focus is on reducing CO2 emissions in these three areas.
In times of growing business, this is a challenge but we managed to reduce emissions across all three key areas in 2012, i.e. by sourcing lower-carbon energy or by making better use of video conferencing rather than traveling to business meetings.
How are these programs hallmarks of "responsible corporations"?
Since our business activity is not very carbon intensive, investing in REDD+ and similar projects today allow us to lock-in emission reductions over many years. We consider this to be responsible corporate practice: leveraging our capital base to build up the low-carbon infrastructure of tomorrow – be it forest protection or renewable energy, railways or electricity grids. This strategy also pays off, which is important to meet the expectations of our clients and shareholders. And this is a good basis to expand on our sustainable leadership agenda.
What role do you prescribe to Allianz in addressing climate change globally and locally?
We have introduced a group-wide strategy, which commits us to play a lead role in addressing climate change. For us it is about addressing the risks, e.g., the uptake in insurance loss from natural catastrophes, and making use of the opportunities. We have invested about EUR 1.7 billion in renewable energy projects, for instance, and set up a renewable energy fund, which has already attracted significant financial interest from our clients.
Moreover, we offer around 130 green products and services to our customers, including renewable energy home insurance, advisory services related to renewable energy and insurance premium discounts for drivers of electric/hybrid cars. The aim is to integrate climate change into our business model, step by step building the business case for a climate friendly economy.
How can the private sector play an important role in reversing/addressing climate change?
By understanding the climate issue as an investment case. Protecting forests is the cheapest way of saving carbon. To speak bluntly: if we first cut down the forest and then try to reduce the same amount of carbon we emitted, it would be much more expensive than just avoiding deforestation.
But as stated before, the most distinguishing factor about REDD+ is the opportunity to carry out investments that help improve social livelihoods and support local communities as well. Therefore supporting projects like the pioneering activities of Wildlife Works are appropriate activities that corporations need to support.
As long as there is no internationally binding climate protection agreement and as long as national regulation lacks teeth, the REDD+ market allows us to participate in voluntary projects around the world to address climate change. Consequently we have just carried out an additional REDD+ transaction in Indonesia.
What do you expect from policy makers to help expand your clean investments?
We stand at a critical juncture. We can continue business as usual with a small but dynamic niche of renewable energy projects and a reliance on fossil fuels for the big chunk of our economy. But this will not prevent dangerous levels of global warming.
Or we embark on a trend change, as we hopefully are seeing right now in Germany.
For this, we need a clear and reliable regulatory framework that gives investors appropriate incentives and the necessary regulatory certainty to finance clean technologies rather than coal or oil.